Former Acting Solicitor General and MSNBC analyst Neal Katyal threw some cold water on the idea, writing “I think secret pardons are constitutionally dubious (since the whole reason the pardon power is virtually unlimited is that Presidents are publicly accountable for them). But here it doesn’t matter, even if Trump tried secret pardons, Biden could make them public the next day.”
So, can Trump really issue secret pardons, or is this one of those things like “Undercover cops have to tell you they’re cops if you ask them directly” or “I don’t have to wear a mask because I have this official card?”
The answer is: kind of. Pocket pardons are like self-pardons in that everyone agrees a president can try them, but nobody knows if they’ll work.